“Untouchable: The Strange Life and Tragic Death of Michael Jackson”

Prologue

An excerpt from “Untouchable: The Strange Life and Tragic Death of Michael Jackson” by Randall Sullivan.

For someone who so often professed his loneliness, Michael Jackson spent a remarkable amount of time avoiding people. He lived most of his life behind gates and walls or in surreptitious transitions from one hiding place to another. He wore disguises, broke off relationships, and changed telephone numbers constantly, but still paparazzi, process servers, delusional women, and desperate men pursued him wherever he went. The saddest part of his situation, though, was that the people Michael took the greatest pains to elude were the members of his own family. In the late summer of 2001, they were after him again. It was just two days before his scheduled departure for New York, where his “30th

Anniversary” concerts were to be staged at Madison Square Garden on September 7 and September 10. Jackson’s friend and business partner Marc Schaffel, in collaboration with producer David Gest, had assembled a collection of performers who would stretch across the years since the recording of Michael’s first solo single, “Got to Be There,” in 1971. The gamut ran from Kenny Rogers to Usher, and included such disparate talents as Destiny’s Child, Ray Charles, Marc Anthony, Missy Elliot, Dionne Warwick, Yoko Ono, Gloria Estefan, Slash, and Whitney Houston. Samuel L. Jackson had agreed to serve as master of ceremonies, while Michael’s friends Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando were recruited to deliver televised speeches.

Michael wanted his family in New York as well; his brothers to perform a medley of hits from their days as the Jackson 5, while his parents sat in special box seats. The Jacksons, though, insisted that they should receive appearance fees. David Gest agreed to honorariums of $250,000 for family members, even those who would be there to watch the show rather than performing in it. Schaffel thought it was “pretty weird” to be paying Michael’s own family to attend his anniversary concert, especially the ones who weren’t even going to be onstage, but Marc advanced money to pay the Jacksons out of his own pocket. Just days before the first concert, though, Jermaine Jackson read an article that said his brother would be making as much as $10 million from the two concerts and convinced his parents that Michael should pay the three of them another $500,000 apiece. Jermaine and his father Joe actually drew up a contract and, with Katherine Jackson in tow, chased Michael around Southern California to try to get him to sign, threatening all the while not to show up in New York unless he did.

Michael took refuge for several days at Schaffel’s house in Calabasas, in the hill country at the far western edge of the San Fernando Valley. The day before their scheduled departure for New York, though, Michael said he needed to make a quick trip north to Neverland Ranch to collect some clothing and other personal items for the trip. He and his two young children, four-year-old Prince and three-year-old Paris, had barely set foot inside the main house at Neverland when the security guards alerted Michael that his parents Joe and Katherine, and his brother Jermaine, were at the main gate, saying they had some papers they needed Michael to sign and demanding to be admitted. Michael told the guards to tell his family he wasn’t at the ranch and to send them away. Joe Jackson, though, refused to budge. “I’m his father,” Joe told the guards. “I need to use the bathroom. His mother needs to use the bathroom. Let us in.” Frantic, Michael phoned Schaffel and explained the situation. If they got through the gate, his family would hound him to sign this contract agreeing to pay each of them another $500,000. But still, he couldn’t keep his mother locked outside when she was pleading to just be allowed to use the bathroom, Michael told Schaffel. What he was going to do, he explained, was instruct the guards to tell his family again that Mr. Jackson was not on the premises, but to admit them to the property so that they could use the facilities.

As soon as Joe and Jermaine were through the main gate, though, they drove straight to the main house and pushed their way inside to search for Michael. “They literally ransacked the place,” Schaffel remembered. Michael retreated with the kids to a hiding place that was concealed behind a secret door at the back of his bedroom closet and phoned Schaffel from there. He was in tears by then, literally whimpering into the phone as he asked Schaffel, “You see what they do to me? Do you understand now why I don’t want anything to do with my brothers, why I hide from them and refuse to answer their phone calls?” “I’ve supported my brothers, supported them all,” Michael cried into the phone. “I’ve put their kids through school. But they still come after me, still wanting more. It never ends. And my father’s worse than they are.” Michael choked up and couldn’t continue for a moment, Schaffel recalled, then sobbed, “The worst part, the part that kills me, is that I have to lie to my own mother.”

“Do you understand, Marc?” Michael asked. “Do you understand now why I am the way I am? How else could I be?”

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UNTOUCHABLE © 2012 by Randall Sullivan; reprinted with the permission of the publisher, Grove/Atlantic, Inc.

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